2017 was Mexico’s most violent year on record, and the
US State Department has given “do not travel” notices for five
Much of the country has in the past been subject to
travel warnings, but these latest advisories are the State
Department’s most severe.
Many of Mexico’s most popular tourist areas, however,
are not subject to warnings.
The US State Department’s latest travel advisory for Mexico
cautions Americans to avoid five of Mexico’s 32 states because of
crime and violence — a designation often given to war-torn
countries like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen.
Mexico overall received a level-two warning, the second-lowest
advisory from the State Department, which says US travelers
should exercise increased caution. The department also advises US
citizens that it has limited ability to provide emergency
services in much of Mexico, as US government employees are barred
from traveling to those places.
2017 was Mexico’s most violent year on record,
with 26,573 homicide victims during the first 11 months of the
The homicide rate for that period, 18.7 cases per 100,000 people,
was lower than in 2011 but more than three times the US national
homicide rate of about five per 100,000.
The five states are Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa, and
Tamaulipas. Each has been subject to travel warnings before, but
the latest designation is level four, the State Department’s
Four of them — Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, and Sinaloa — are
Pacific coast states where violence related to drugs and
organized crime is rampant.
Why these states got the highest-level warning
Guerrero, the southernmost of the four, has long been riddled
with social conflict, and criminal groups in the state compete
for control of valuable drug-cultivation areas and
Police forces in the state have proved incapable of combating
criminal activity, and the military has been deployed there to
The 2,288 homicide victims in the state during the first 11
months of last year was more than it had throughout both 2015 and
Christopher Woody/Mexican government
Violence related to drug trafficking has also made the once
idyllic resort city of Acapulco one of the most violent cities in
the world, earning it the nickname “Guerrero’s Iraq.”
“Armed groups operate independently of the government in many
areas of Guerrero,” the State Department advisory said. “Members
of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and may use
violence towards travelers.”
Farther north, Michoacan has also long been a hotbed for drug-related
violence. It was the first state to receive federal troops
deployed around the country in
2007 by the president at the time, Felipe Calderon.
Criminal groups have proliferated there, including the Familia
Michoacana, which was supplanted by the Knights Templar, as well
as groups like the Zetas and the Jalisco New Generation cartel.
Self-defense forces have also appeared in Michoacan, formed by
citizens to protect their homes and lucrative
resources like avocado crops, though some of those forces
have gotten involved in criminal activity.
The number of homicide victims recorded in Michoacan through
November last year was 1,335, about equal to the 1,334 seen
during that period in 2016 but exceeding the 963 during all of
Colima is Mexico’s smallest state, but the dramatic increase in
homicides there over the past two years has given it the
country’s highest homicide rate, 83.31 per 100,000 people during
the first 11 months of 2017, or more than four times the national
The number of homicide victims in Colima from January to November
was 35% higher than in the same period in 2016 and 368% higher
than in the period in 2015.
Violence in Colima has largely been driven by conflict among elements of the
Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels, which are
believed to be fighting over control of lucrative trafficking
networks in the state, including the port of Manzanillo. The
State Department says there are no restrictions on US government
travel to Manzanillo.
Sinaloa, farther up the Pacific coast, has long been dominated by
the cartel of the same name, which has experienced internal turmoil and
increasing external pressure in the two
years since its chief Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was recaptured.
(Guzman was extradited to the US last
The Sinaloa cartel is best understood as a confederation of
factions, and the elements in Sinaloa state appear to have
regained some stability, though violence in the state remains
The total number of homicide victims in the state in the first 11
months of 2017 was 38% higher than in the same period in 2016 and
61% higher than in the period in 2015.
Tamaulipas, bordering Texas in Mexico’s northeast corner, has
been the redoubt of the Gulf and Zetas cartels.
Violence there has been elevated for some time, and criminal
groups have worked their way into many sectors of public life,
preying on residents and local commerce — including private
businesses and public enterprises, like the energy industry.
“Violent crime, such as murder, armed robbery, carjacking,
kidnapping, extortion, and sexual assault, is common,” the State
Department’s notice said. “Gang activity, including gun battles,
“Armed criminal groups target public and private passenger buses
traveling through Tamaulipas, often taking passengers hostage and
demanding ransom payments. Local law enforcement has limited
capability to respond to violence in many parts of the state.”
Other states receive travel warnings
Many of Mexico’s states — including the border states of
Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Sonora — received
level-three warnings, which urge travelers to reconsider travel.
Jalisco, which is home to resorts in Puerto Vallarta and
expatriate communities in Chapala and Ajijic, also received a
level-three warning, as did Mexico state, the country’s most
populous, which is home to many of Mexico City’s suburbs.
A notice from the State Department late last summer warned
travelers about rising violence in the states of Quintana Roo and
Baja California Sur, which include the resort areas Cancun and Los Cabos,
respectively. Mexican officials said at the time they suspected
that warning could have been related to ongoing NAFTA
The most recent advisory gives both states a level-two warning,
advising travelers to exercise increased caution, and says there
are no restrictions on travel in tourist areas there.
From 2016 to 2017, Baja California Sur saw the biggest year-to-year
increase in homicide victims, 223%, while Quintana Roo saw a
The violence in Baja California
Sur doesn’t appear to have affected the state’s tourism
The managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board told The Associated Press that
tourism arrivals rose 16% and hotel occupancy rose 18% last year,
adding that officials and tourism operators in the state were
investing in more security.
Mexico’s tourism secretary, Enrique De La Madrid, said earlier this week that Mexico’s
most significant challenge in the tourism sector was “crime
events occurring where they didn’t before — for example, in
Cancun, La Paz, and Los Cabos.”
Though De La Madrid also called tourism “one of the most
important sectors of our economy” — representing more of the country’s gross
domestic product than construction as well as mining and
petroleum put together — he called for reducing Mexican tourism’s
dependence on US travelers, saying Mexico should aim to reduce
the US’s share of foreign arrivals to no more than 50% from 60%.